advertising branding & corporate identity marketing small business marketing social media

Is Instagram Right for My Business?

Instagram for Small BusinessWith more than 70 million users in the United States and a user base that skews young and affluent, many businesses are taking another look at Instagram.

Instagram is a mobile app-based photo sharing network, where an individual or business can post photos of events, items or anything else with captions and clickable, searchable hashtags. The platform also has tools built in so you can make your Instagram photos appear old, faded or artistic.

Overall, the social network does best for businesses that are visual in nature – retail, art, real estate, home improvement, jewelry, tourism and restaurants. It can also be useful for event-based businesses. There are always exceptions, but those in the finance and IT sectors be better served focusing on other social networks, such as LinkedIn.

In-the-Moment Marketing

Unlike most other social networks, Instagram is really capitalizes on in-the-moment photos of events in addition to products.

Since it’s mobile app-based, you can’t take an amazing photo with your $500 camera, Photoshop it and upload it to Instagram from your laptop. You’re stuck with your iPhone or Samsung or other web-enabled camera. That’s a mixed blessing. (Technically, there are ways around this, but it goes against the spirit of the platform.)

However, nice thing about Instagram is that it interfaces easily with Facebook and Twitter, so if you take a photo with your Instagram app and caption it, then share it on Facebook and Twitter instantly, which can gain your business more followers on all three networks.

Examples and Best Practices

It always helps to look at what other businesses are doing with a platform. Here are some examples of good, effective usage of Instagram:

In the tourism and publishing industry, Outdoor Life magazine has had success with Instagram contests. The magazine asked readers to take a photo with Instagram and upload it to the network with a specific hashtag and username mentioned. (Here’s a recent contest launch post from Outdoor Life for an example of how to set up an Instagram contest.)

To drive traffic back to the publication’s website, Outdoor Life’s website did a post embedding several Instagram photos from users.

You can also buy Instagram ads – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had some success there – and there are ways through responding to user comments to encouraging and give guidance on purchasing, even though direct links to your website in photo captions won’t work. (A&E clothing is a master at encouraging people to go online to purchase items.)

Here in Alexandria, we love @VisitAlexVA on Instagram. What are your favorite local outlets on Instagram?

Beth Lawton is founder and CMO of Canoe Media Services, an Alexandria-based business that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses shine online with smart social media marketing, blog content and more. More information is available at

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